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The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is part of the Scottish Government’s Hydro Nation strategy. The objective of the strategy is to develop the economic, environmental and social value of Scotland’s water resources. The Hydro Nation Scholars play an important role in supporting this by:

  • developing understanding of how and where best to develop the value of Scotland’s water resources
  • focusing on enhancing Scottish capacity in areas of existing research excellence
  • providing new research and insights where there are gaps related to water resources in Scotland.

Projects with international elements will be expected to recognise and reflect in their design the key territories set out in the Scottish Government’s International Development Framework, and of those Malawi in particular. Projects in other territories can be considered, but priority will be given to projects which can demonstrate a clear understanding of recent or current Hydro Nation international activity. 

The Programme and the associated graduate school are managed on behalf of the Scottish Government by the Hydro Nation International Centre at the James Hutton Institute and steered by an Executive Group (HNSPEG) drawing on  Scotland’s water policy, industry, and academic network.


The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is an open competition for project topics and then for PhD Scholars to undertake approved projects, hosted within Scottish Universities and Research Institutes. 

Full funding is available from the Scottish Government (to host institutions via the Scottish Funding Council) for up to 7 PhD scholarships. Home and Overseas scholars can be considered and are defined according to a Scholar’s status for University admissions. The funding available will be in line with the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) doctoral stipend levels and indicative fees. Currently these are:

  • National Minimum Doctoral Stipend for 2021/22 is £15,609
  • Research Councils UK Indicative Fee Level for 2021/22 is £4,500

Scholars will be allocated £2,500 per annum for Travel and Subsistence and annual on-costs and all fees and stipend will be covered. Scholars will be funded for 4 years.

Scholars will benefit from specialised programmes provided under the auspices of the Hydro Nation Graduate School.



Applications are now invited for project proposals for 2022. Please submit the Project Proposal Form to Linda Wood ( by 11:59 pm on 3rd of September 2021. 

Applications are invited for project proposals on the following topics of interest:

Please note that while the Hydro Nation Scholars Programme welcomes proposals for international collaborative projects, such proposals must include an ‘in-country’ co-supervisor/associate supervisor. This requirement reflects the underlying philosophy of Scottish Government’s international strategy, which necessitates co-construction of collaborative international projects with representative institutions and/or governing bodies in the participating country.


1. Inclusive Blue-Green Infrastructure

Issue: Blue-Green Infrastructure (BGI) is increasingly recognised as an important climate change mitigation and adaptation measure, which can help make our cities more resilient. At its best, BGI can also deliver a host of additional benefits, including enhancing health and wellbeing and increasing biodiversity. The wide range of ecosystem services that derive from BGI also raise questions about how any benefits (or disbenefits) are distributed, who benefits, and the longer-term resilience of the flows of benefits. As BGI becomes mainstreamed within Scotland’s response to climate change, it is time to consider closely the inclusivity of BGI as part of how we bring about a just transition.

Ask: Project proposals should adopt an interdisciplinary approach to consider how to enhance the inclusivity of existing and/or proposed BGI. This may include modelling of ecosystem services and impacts, participatory planning approaches, as well as drawing upon lessons from international examples about how cities have become both climate resilient and enhanced the inclusivity of urban spaces and/or decision-making processes. Factors that may be investigated for their role in ensuring this inclusivity include: the spatial distribution of infrastructure, the institutional and governance arrangements that support GBI to deliver benefits, as well as perceptions and values around these benefits. A key potential output could be the development of an inclusivity framework to aid in selection and planning of BGI.



2. Scaling Nature Based Solutions


Issue: Scotland is committed to providing Nature Based Solutions to the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. There are multiple examples of Nature Based Solutions that are required within the water environment – through which so many climate change impacts are mediated. 


Ask: The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme and other research funders are already undertaking research on the effectiveness and efficacy of different aquatic Nature Based Solutions.  A particular challenge at present is the governance needed to effectively scale up the implementation of Nature Based Solutions at the catchment and landscape scales. Related to this, is a need for greater clarity and understanding of the financing opportunities and tools to implement wide scale Nature Based Solutions that provide multiple benefits. Therefore, the focus is for applied research to improve the governance and/or green financing needed to rapidly upscale strategic and effective Nature Based Solutions in the water environment. 


3. Digital Water

Issue:  Digital water is the proactive management of our water resources, using a range of emerging technologies including sensors, AI and machine learning. In terms of water services, digital technologies have the potential to predict the performance, condition and maintenance of assets. By enabling an improved understanding of risk, more informed decisions can be made to better protect public health and the environment.


Ask:  Project proposals are invited which explore how we can drive change in the way we manage our water resources in a digital world. This can include both real-time and predictive integrated information technologies, as well as proposals that explore the use of existing digital sources for additional benefits. Work in this theme may also wish to consider data governance as well.


4. Water Efficiency

Issue:  Although Scotland may be considered a water rich country, our overall use of water is high and needs to be reduced.  Given the increasing uncertainty of a changing climate, the potential risk of drought, and in order to embrace a low-carbon green transition, there is a pressing need to reduce water consumption and waste in all sectors. Many Scottish industries have engaged with this challenge and developed strategies to reduce total consumption, but overall water consumption remains high. Additionally, in Scotland, seasonal changes driven by factors such as tourism increase pressures on rural locations and supplies.


Ask:  Project proposals are invited that explore how to achieve a reduction in use in all sectors (e.g. urban, rural, agriculture, industry, energy, manufacturing) through innovation, the development and adoption of emerging technology in existing and new contexts (though not leakage prevention or management), new design approaches, smart sensor technology, understanding barriers to, and drivers of, behaviour change.



5. Natural Capital Accounting for the Water Industry

Issue:  Scottish Water is committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2040. As part of its strategic plan, it is working with other stakeholders to ensure that investment appraisals embrace the “six capitals” framework, particularly on social and natural capital. This involves developing measures of the quantity of carbon equivalent emissions on the environment, and carbon pricing that can be incorporated in its investment appraisals. 


Ask:  Project proposals are sought that assess existing approaches to reporting of non-cash and non-monetised elements such as carbon and natural capital within the water industry. Understanding and developing cost-benefit techniques which could potentially be used to measure non-cash, and non-monetised elements in an asset-intensive industry will provide considerable benefit.


6. Wildcard – Interdisciplinary Innovation for Water

Issue: New paradigms and interdisciplinary thinking are required to confront future global water challenges. Such innovation thrives at the intersection of science disciplines (biophysical, socio-economic, engineering, law, and medicine), inter-sectoral business knowledge transfer, societal engagement (including education, culture and gender issues), holistic systems thinking, and citizen science.

Ask: Project proposals will be considered which develop interdisciplinary approaches to confront domestic and global water challenges (*Wildcard proposals are limited to a maximum one proposal per lead academic institution).